A harvest of heritage treasures for Cebu

By Jobers Reynes Bersales |August 05,2019 - 07:18 AM

The Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio de Maria Parish Church of Boljoon will no longer be the only National Cultural Treasure (NCT) of Cebu. Declared in 2006 by the National Museum (NM), the only cultural agency in the country authorized by law to award the much-coveted designation, this beautiful church built in the late 1700s will soon be joined by six churches, three museums and an equal number of other heritage resources in Cebu that the NM plans to inscribe either as NCTs or as Important Cultural Properties (ICPs).

Officials from the NM Cultural Properties Regulation Division (CPRD) came to Cebu last week to conduct a stakeholders’ meeting at the Aula Magna of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño last Thursday. This is an important step prior to the public declarations that will be carried out if no opposition is made within 30 days from that meeting. 

Of the six churches, five are under the Archdiocese of Cebu, namely: the Sta. Catalina de Alejandria Parish Church of Carcar City; the Our Lady of Pilar Parish Church of Sibonga; the San Miguel Arcangel Parish Church of Argao; and the Immaculate Conception Parish Church of Oslob. Only an adverse decision from Archbishop Jose S. Palma, which we earnestly hope will not happen, will prevent these churches from joining an elite club, as it were, of churches in the country that exhibit exceptional and unique qualities worthy of being recognized by the National Museum. 

We do not know yet which of them, including the Basilica Monore del Santo Niño, will be declared as NCTs but such a designation means that the structure is unique, and possesses outstanding historical, cultural, artistic, and/or scientific value considered significant not just locally but nationally. Being an NCT is by the way an important step in nominating a heritage resource as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS).

An ICP on, the other hand, is a slightly lower level of declaration in that, while a structure may possess exceptional significance, it does not sufficiently show outstanding merit. Nevertheless, there is actually no difference in terms of benefits like technical support and assistance to be derived from NM and other cultural agencies once a heritage resource is declared as NCT or as ICP.

Some of the stakeholders who attended the meeting at the Aula Magna of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño on Aug. 1, 2019 in a photo op with officials from the National Museum’s Cultural Properties Regulation Division.

In Thursday’s meeting, I learned that our good friend, the church historian and archivist, Ricky Jose, and another friend who sadly passed away early this year, architect Toti Villalon, was part of the panel of experts that tackled the nominations from Cebu last year. The two were joined by cultural historian, Fr. Rene Javellana, SJ, of the Ateneo, architect Manolo Noche of the University of Santo Tomas, and NM director Jeremy Barns who personally went to all the nominated structures last year with assistant director Angel Bautista. 

Other than the churches I mention above, the panel of experts also approved the following: Fort San Pedro; Plaza Independencia; Museo Sugbo; Casa Gorordo; Jesuit House of 1730; Malacañang sa Sugbu/Old Customs House; Fuente Osmeña; Yap-Sandiego House; Legazpi Monument; Magellan’s Cross; Cebu Heritage Monument; BPI Magallanes Building/BPI Museum Cebu; and the Pedro Gotiaoco Building. 

I believe the number in Cebu is by far the largest number of inscriptions ever carried out by NM in one single year in its history. Incidentally, Bohol currently holds perhaps the highest number of NCTs and ICPs in one single province at 25 churches and other structures. Many of these were declared in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck the island (and also Cebu) in 2013.

Now comes Cebu’s turn as it approaches its most important celebration, the quadricentennial of the Magellan expedition. And this we hope will just be the first batch as there are many more that I think should be recognized, especially the churches on the western cost of Cebu province. Incidentally, when I asked why the Cebu Capitol was not included in the deliberations, I was told that a different set of declarations will be made for provincial capitols.

For Cebuanos, the long wait is finally over, thanks to the National Museum and especially to its director, Jeremy Barns.

On this note, I should also congratulate and at the same time thank the Dr. Rene Escalante, the chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on the support given by Mayor Edgardo Labella to set up a kind of Luneta at the SRP with a statue of Lapulapu. Negotiations with the previous administration, which eventually bogged down last February, resulted in a gargantuan delay of this most-awaited project, which I think includes a museum as well as a grandstand. 

I fervently hope the facilities can be completed in time for the rumored visit of Pope Francis in 2021. 

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